New York State Assembly, Albany, New York 12248

News from the
Assembly Task Force on
Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
photo School children express their opinions about nutrition and their meals to Assemblyman Ortiz

Felix W. Ortiz, Chair white square Sheldon Silver, Speaker white square Spring 2003

Felix W. Ortiz, Chair Message From the Chair

Dear Friends:

I am pleased to announce my reappointment as Chair of the Task Force. Although the Task Force had a successful legislative session last year, the continuing downturn in the economy has put the State, and many local governments, in a difficult financial situation. Many families and individuals are also hurting because of job losses. The number of visits to emergency food programs by individuals and parents who still have jobs continues to grow. Farmers struggle to survive with low prices for milk and other products and high costs of doing business. We face challenges but together we can find solutions.

In the face of dramatically reduced government revenues and drastic cuts in proposed budgets, my colleagues and I have been fighting to protect the gains we have made in education, health care and human services. I am working to find new sources of revenue for our hungry neighbors as part of my regular visits to Washington as an active member of the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) and Council of State Governments. This year the federal government has to reauthorize the Child Nutrition programs such as School Lunch and Breakfast, Summer Food, and WIC. Last year we were able to help hundreds of thousands of immigrants become eligible for the federal Food Stamp program again.

Our Farm-to-School law is being implemented by the Department of Agriculture and Markets and should help the farm community find new customers. I will be working to find additional markets and convince schools and other government institutions to support our local farms and food businesses. In Washington I am Chair of a NCSL committee working on Labor issues and I plan to address problems faced by our farmers and farm workers. Our Task Force bill to provide a permanent tax exemption for farmworker buildings that meet all health and safety codes was signed into law at the end of last year.

In Washington I also met with the Director of Homeland Security to discuss food safety and security issues and will be monitoring New York State’s use of federal grants to protect our food supply.

Finally, I plan to continue the work I began last year on what may be the most important problem I have confronted as Task Force Chair - childhood obesity. We have been traveling around the State to hear from parents, health and nutrition professionals, food service directors, and educators about what we can do to reverse the rapid growth in obesity. I especially want to make sure that our schools are places where children can be free of the negative influences of the marketplace. Schools should be a safe place to learn about healthy nutrition and healthy physical activity not a place to push products that contribute to our children’s health problems.

I look forward to visiting your communities in the coming months to help your children, your schools, your businesses and your health.

Felix Ortiz


Assemblyman Ortiz met with Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security, in Washington to discuss his concerns with the adequacy of protection for New York’s food supply— particularly imported foods — and the safety of our farms.

Budget News

Both the Governor and President proposed austere budgets for the coming fiscal years. The federal and State budgets contain devastating cuts for many human and social services and educational programs. Although nutrition program spending was largely spared in the State budget, the other cuts would impact the families served by nutrition programs and the local agencies, such as schools, that provide the services. For example, the effect may show up in a school that decides to cutback on staff in a breakfast program which reduces access and reduces participation or a school that relies more on unhealthy vending machine sales to cover costs.

The Assembly’s response was to develop a budget that restored much of the billions of dollars the Governor proposed to cut from education, health and human services. State funding for WIC and Senior meals was maintained at last year’s levels. Although the Legislature was not able to add additional funding for the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) this year, funding will still be more than double the level it was 5 years ago.

A $2 million increase in State Food Stamp outreach efforts combined with last year’s improvements to the federal Food Stamp program, especially the restoration of many legal immigrants, should help bring in thousands of additional recipients and millions of dollars into the food economy.

The Assembly was also able to prevent proposals by the Governor to impose new fees on small-scale food processors and fees on food salvagers who gather unused food for donation to emergency food programs.

Assemblyman Ortiz and his colleagues will continue to fight the Governor’s and President’s cuts, and work in Albany and Washington to improve funding for struggling families, advocate for improvements to child nutrition programs, find more financial relief for family farmers, and make sure our government is adequately protecting the safety of our food.


arrow Margo Wootan from the Washington, DC-based Center for Science In the Public Interest (CSPI) and Assemblyman Ortiz make the case for nutrition labeling on chain restaurant menus.

arrowAssemblyman Ortiz meets with farm workers at the Capitol to show his support for their hard work. He promised to use his position as Task Force Chair to find common ground with farmers and consumers to address their concerns.


Nutrition and Health:
At Home, At School, In the Community

The Task Force has made nutrition and health, especially childhood obesity, a continuing priority this year. Assemblyman Ortiz plans to continue his fight to improve the nutritional health of the State’s children. The Task Force has sponsored public hearings in Suffolk and Westchester Counties to highlight the problem of childhood obesity and efforts to prevent or reduce it. Additional hearings are planned for Western NY, Albany and New York City. These hearings are examining changes at school, changes in the marketplace, changes in the community, and assistance for parents. For example, witnesses testified about the use of schools to market unhealthy food products, and efforts to improve the food children consume in school and concerns about the marketing of unhealthy restaurant meals to children and the need for more nutrition information.

The Task Force has introduced a bill (A.5520/S.4555) that requires fast food and other restaurant chains to list fat, calorie, carbohydrate and sodium levels for items on their menus or menu boards. Ortiz has also reintroduced the Childhood Obesity Prevention bill (A.2800/S.2405), which passed the Assembly this month, to provide grants to schools and other organizations to help communities and families address this problem.

Ortiz said, "As Task Force Chair I have learned about the dramatic rise in obesity among our children and how corporations target their advertising to this vulnerable population at home, at the mall and even at school. We shouldn’t jeopardize our students’ health by encouraging them to drink more soda to pay for new score boards advertising that soda in the gym. Our kids are also spending too much time watching TV and when they do they are bombarded with 10,000 food ads per year. They and their parents need to combat these campaigns with information about what they are putting in their bodies. That’s why I am introducing these bills."

New York State has a higher childhood obesity rate than the national average and rates among Hispanic and African-American children are even higher: 22% of Black, 20% of Latino, and 19% of White sixth grade children are overweight in New York City. A recent study found that one in four obese children have early signs of Type II diabetes. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is also much higher in Hispanic and African–American populations.

Ortiz also introduced a bill (A.6620) to require insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy. MNT is defined as nutritional diagnostic, therapy, and counseling services for the purpose of disease management provided by State Certified Dietitians and Nutritionists upon referral from a physician. The federal Medicare program has determined that MNT can be a reimbursable procedure for certain medical conditions.

To find out more about the Task Force hearings and legislation, check Task Forces for updates, or call us at 518-455-5203.

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